World Cup: Proteas need to punch above their prestige

It is one of cricket’s great adages that you can only play what’s in front of you. Simply put, this relates to the idea that even though a team might theoretically have the better of an opponent, winning finally needs to be achieved where it counts — on the field of play.

The adage is used in a secondary sense, too, and this is by way of a rejoinder to the accusation that teams should win matches against apparently inferior opponents’ anyway. Cricket, though, is not a sport that always favours the form book. It is booby-trapped with more cul-de-sacs, blind rises and wrong turns than most, so nothing should be taken for granted.

Ergo, you can only play what’s in front of you.

This is a slightly long-winded way of saying that South Africa, after having beaten Bangladesh in their opener of the Women’s World Cup in New Zealand a week ago, face Pakistan tomorrow, a fixture they should win.

They should beat Pakistan because, although the Pakistan women have a couple of wily spinners in their midst, their batting is pedestrian and generally lacks power.

There’s an important caveat to this, which tells us that at one stage in Pakistan’s match against India on the weekend, they had the altogether more rounded Indians looking a tad wobbly at 116 for six.

Pity was, they allowed India to wriggle off the hook to post 244 for seven. In reply, Pakistan scraped their way to 137 in 43 painful overs, India’s slow left-arm spinner, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, tying them up in knots in a spell that contained 38 dot balls to finish with four for 31.

DUNEDIN, NEW ZEALAND – MARCH 05: South Africa celebrate after a video reviewed concluded that Fargana Hoque of Bangladesh was run out by Masabata Klaas of South Africa during the 2022 ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup match between Bangladesh and South Africa at University Oval on March 05, 2022 in Dunedin, New Zealand. (Joe Allison-ICC/ICC via Getty Images)

And what of the South Africans? Well, that’s an interesting one, because they both sailed past the Bangladeshis in their opener and somehow failed to convince in doing so. To recap, South Africa batted first and bumbled slightly to 207, Laura Wolfaardt (41), Marizanne Kapp (42) and Chloe Tryon a breezy 39 in 40 balls.

Despite an opening run stand of 69, Bangladesh were always behind the scoring rate and nosedived to 108 for five in the 34th over, thanks mainly to a spell of inspired medium pace bowling by Ayabonga Khaka.

What set Khaka apart from her colleagues was that she pitched the ball up and bowled steady fourth-stump lines to both left and right-handers. For this she was rewarded with four for 32 (44 dot balls) and the player of the match award. It wasn’t a difficult decision to make, so much more successful was she than her colleagues, although Tryon, with her slow left-arm spin, bowled tidily in only conceding 22 runs in her eight overs.

It’s in the batting where improvement is needed. Wolfaardt went out at an important time for herself and the South African innings and stomped off in a huff, the implication being that she knew most of the hard work had been done. Fact of the matter is that no batter scored a 50 against Bangladesh, which tends to confirm the idea that it wasn’t all one-way traffic. Lizelle Lee, the hard-hitting batter at the top of the South African order, will hopefully be back for the Pakistan match, with her much-needed power and ability to clear the ropes.

Slow bowling will be the way the Pakistanis approach things in Mount Manganui tomorrow, with the action kicking off early on Friday morning local time, which means that South Africa will probably need to work for their runs and run their twos and threes. They didn’t score enough boundaries against Bangladesh (13, to be precise), while Bangladesh scored 12 in their 175. It wasn’t good enough.

The fact that it’s a day/nighter will complicate matters. Kruger van Wyk, the former New Zealand Test wicket-keeper and consultant with the women, says that dew is likely to be a factor, which suggests the South Africans might flirt with batting first if they win the toss.

Speculation aside, the tournament as a whole is beginning to take shape. The surprise package of the first week came in the form of the West Indies, who have beaten both New Zealand and England, two pedigree teams.

On the other side of the table are Bangladesh and Pakistan, who have lost both of their opening matches. If one discounts Australia, who have won both of their openers and look to be the competition’s strongest side, that leaves a gently sagging middle with four other teams — India, South Africa, England and New Zealand — all battling for two of the remaining semi-final spots.

If South Africa are to be there at the business end they will need to pick up points against Pakistan before they deal with the infinitely more challenging prospect of a scalded England on Monday.

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